Online version of ‘Contact’ & Screening

Contact_CHope_2016

An 8 minute online version of the full 31 minute film Contact, 2016 is available to watch here https://vimeo.com/163154622.

Details of ‘Contact’, 2016, 31′ 04″:

In ‘Contact’ female actors and students explore affectionate gestures of attachment. Beginning by touching hands with hands, in a way that draws on depictions of closeness in cinema, the women’s interactions become increasingly creative as ‘Contact’ aims to depict, and imaginatively extend, the kind of bodily inventiveness often witnessed between attached people. Conversations with the actors about their experiences of performing attachment, and of making ‘contact’ with other actors in film and theatre productions, overlay or disrupt the footage of their interactions with the students. ‘Contact’ creates a dialogue between the representation of close relationships in visual culture and the political potential of reframing creativity between attached people as forms of collaboration and agency.

Contact was screened at Woodhouse Community Centre, Leeds on Thursday 14th April 2016. The screening took place in collaboration with Pavilion, Leeds. Further details here.

Editing the video material 20/3 – 1/4/16

A key approach to this project was that I wouldn’t have a ‘plan’ in advance for editing the footage we recorded. I wanted the conversations to be an information gathering exercise from which the further two sessions could be written. It was my aim that the workshops be foregrounded as activities in the first instance, then secondarily to be recorded. I set out to develop a limited structure to the planned activities which could support the actors and students in developing interactions rooted in, and developing from, affectionate gestures. After a more narratively structured session on the 17th, for the 19th I devised a series of activities that might elicit specifically gestural outcomes. Taken together the activities enacted  a transition from one more recognisable kind of affectionate gesture (often found in cinema) to more exploratory and creative options that also might be read as increasingly abstract. Out of 10 activities, 6 interested me the most, for the edit.

Regarding my conversations with the actors, while there was an original order to the questions that I asked which could be maintained, I knew that each actor had raised different, interesting points that could be highlighted in the edit itself. I wanted to decide on the intersection of gestures and interviews once all the workshops were complete.

It was only when reviewing the footage of the conversations with the actors that I began to see possible connections, things that could be drawn out either in direct relation, or comparison to, the footage of the workshops. Both activities were structured, in that they involved ‘responses’ to a discursive question, or activity stated in words. My hope was that the questions underpinning the conversations  would elicit deeper, broader and richer answers than the questions themselves, that they might enable an enquiry, albeit it at a personal and professional level into the performance of attachment. In the workshops, my hope was that by effectively ‘handing over’ the one or two sentence activities to the actors and students to collaborate on, that they could bring everything to the workshop that they chose to. I hoped that the creativity inherent in this could be seen as an act rooted in improvisation, one that connects back to the more instinctive creativity found between attached people.

The film edit was selected from 6 hours of material (selected from a number of cameras in the workshops) and became an initial 46 minutes. A further edit reduced the work to 31 minutes duration. Will Rose at Pavilion was a key person I discussed the edit with. The reduction of the duration of the work was important to me as; it became important to select the most relevant of the actors’ responses, the ones that seemed to prompt the most interesting kinds of questions in the context of performing gestures of attachment. Overall I set out to highlight actors’ perspectives on their own experiences of performing attachment in visual culture and then to set this against the more explorative interactions they had undertaken in the workshops.

Concerning the workshop material – I decided not to use sound. I was interested in the possibility of the interactions being read in more than one way. This also became important when I decided to overlay the sound of the conversations and workshop material so that they could, when sound was present, interact with each other. The contrasts and confluences that happen in ‘Contact’ – due to the way the sound is positioned in the final work – are intended to provide the possibility for a layered reading, that contrasts the collaborative potential visible in the gestures and interactions, with what is familiar, as well as unknown, affective and emotional about what the actors describe.

Actor conversations 4/3, Workshops 17/3 & 19/3, Leeds

On 4/3/16 I held the first session of conversations with actors Sarah Oldknow, Sara Mazzanti and Martina McClements; Alyson Marks’ conversation took place on 17/3/16 at the Cardigan Centre, Leeds. My focus for the conversations was on the actors’ experiences of performing attachment. I wanted to ask a range of things about this – and was initially interested in examples of parts that the actors had played, and might be able to discuss, and which also might be known to an audience. I was interested in the actors’ roles in describing their performances, that somehow these would exist in language and in the viewers’ minds, rather than as images or visual depictions. The full list of questions that I asked the actors are here as a PDF: Performing Attachment_Questions for Conversations.

Visually, I wanted to record the interviews in such a way that was not unfamiliar in a documentary – a head shot – but I also wanted o approach this in a way that was very intimate and could recall one half of the classic ‘shot-reverse-shot’ camera approach in cinema where the camera approximates the position of the person facing the actor depicted in the image, hence making viewers feel like they are ‘relating’ to that person. Tied to this, I also sought to situate the actors in warm light – this was daylight, but bounced onto the subjects using reflectors. This intimacy was of interest to me and seemed, in the depiction of these actors, to step aside from a more objective kind of colouring.

On 17/3/16 I held a workshop with actors Alyson Marks, Sarah Oldknow and Sara Mazzanti at the Cardigan Centre, Leeds. In this workshop I took the approach of developing a loose narrative premise on which improvisations could be based. I was interested in drawing out themes from the interviews with actors and to allow the actors to play aspects of them out narratively in the workshop. This exploratory workshop was a preface to the main workshop of 19/3/16.

On 19/3/16 I held a workshop for Fine Art students Beth Dalton and Alice Evans and actors Alyson Marks, Sarah Oldknow and Martina McClements at Woodhouse Community Centre in Leeds. From the beginning of the project I had been interested in students and actors collaborating – I was interested in their likely different approaches to performing attachment and to visual culture overall. After the actors’  conversations, and the 17/3 workshop, I devised a series of short activities that the actors and the students could perform together.

By producing these activities, it was my aim to avoid directing the actors or students at all, to leave the content of their actions and interactions as open as possible, albeit locating them in response to 10 short ‘task-like’ activities. This was deliberately very loose and meant that I, as a possible ‘director’ could be removed from the work to an extent, and particularly on the day of the workshop. This was an idea that related to my earlier work ‘Group Photo’ which had been completely choreographed by me. Yet, since this work, and also since the actors’ had spoken often of ‘actor-led’ work, I wanted to allow the knowledge and interests of the actors and students to come to the fore.

This was the list of activities on the day:

Workshop activity plan_19:3:16

Planning: conversations, workshops – February 2016

Throughout February I worked on planning the series of three sessions with actors that the moving image project, that would be the key public outcome of this Post-Doctoral research project, would result from. I had envisaged producing 3 workshops with actors and students at the project’s inception; this became one session of interviews and two workshops.

I decided to work with female actors and students only. This was a conscious decision, as intimacy between intergenerational women possessed interesting associations that the creativity of the gestures might expand, also there seemed to be a particular capacity for intimacy here. Horizontality in attachment was another consideration – particularly the influence of Juliet Mitchell’s discussion of the importance of siblings, one that she said John Bowlby failed to emphasise in his well-known studies of children removed from their families during WWII.

Casting the project, I contacted Sarah Oldknow and Alyson Marks – two actors who I had previously worked with to realise my moving image work ‘Group Photo’, 2014. I had also worked with Sarah Oldknow earlier in my PhD in exploratory workshops focusing on emotion. A further actress, Martina McClements joined Sarah and Alyson. I was particularly interested in working with experienced actors, actors who I had some connection to, or had some connection to each other (Martina and Sarah know each other).  There was something of the relationship or rapport between the actors that seemed critical to the project overall, providing a more appropriate context for the exploration of ‘attachment’.

At the very start of the project I had considered producing an ‘archive’ of intimate gestures in cinema and visual media myself, on which the workshops could be based. Yet, as my thoughts developed in January, I realised I was particularly interested in sourcing information about the performance of attachment from actors themselves. To an extent, I deliberately sought to relinquish the kind of control that was evident in ‘Group Photo’ and to rather engage actors in conversations about roles they had performed. What were these actors’ perspectives on these performances? What roles were important or exemplified the performance of ‘attachment’ for them? How could they explain instances of performing gestures of attachment from their experience?

A central interest, in speaking to actors, was how their experiences of performing attachment in films, television and theatre productions could be compared to  exploratory gestures and interactions that may be found between attached people in life. I had already begun the project by thinking about the apparent limitations placed on affectionate gestures in visual culture, also what about attachment isn’t visible or seen in images. As a result, I wanted to start the project from the perspective and experience of actors who are familiar with performing the kinds of gestures we might witness in visual culture.

So I worked on a series of questions that I could ask the actors. The hope was that these questions could elicit conversations between the actors and I. The plan was to speak to each actor for 45 minutes. I knew that recordings of this material would be central to the final moving image work.

Key activities throughout February were securing venues and locations for the workshops and shoots to take place, casting and communicating with the actors, writing and preparing the interview questions, contacting and securing a cinematographer – Dave Lynch, securing dates for workshops/conversations, etc.

 

Speaker ‘On Demand’ workshop – 27/2/16, Banner Repeater, London

I was invited to be a speaker at the first of three workshops held at Banner Repeater project space, London as part of Suzanne Caines’ exhibition ‘On Demand’ (13.2.16 – 1.5.16). This workshop, on 27/2/16 was titled ‘Occupying the Space of a Television Series’ and involved the production of a collective and creative discourse circulating around Caines’ moving image artworks – Episode 1 – ‘Occupying The Space of a Television Series’
Episode 2/3 – ‘Molten Metal’/ ‘Oh, We’re Gonna Use It’ and two texts selected by Caines – Jacques Ranciere’s, ‘Sentence, Image, History’ p.43-51 and Abi Warburg’s – ‘A Lecture on Serpent Ritual’. More details about this event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/233479900324901/.

Central to Caines’ project was the interrogation of, and repurposing of material from, the American television remake of Danish drama ‘The Killing’. Through the action of ‘hijacking’ characters from popular television series – in this case ‘Holder’ from The Killing – the workshop sought to explore the critical potential of these characters entering a space of collective writing.

For Caines these questions were central to her, and our, enquiry:
What is the affect of the transition between the virtual space of the screen and the written space of the page?
To what extent can a television character situate the re-occupation of both practice and theory in order to assume a different relationship to both of them?

Central to the ‘Performing Attachment’ Post-Doctoral project is the relationship between the viewer, and the protagonists they view in images. I have suggested, in my PhD thesis of 2015, that this relationship was a fundamentally social one, rooted in an often profound inequality between the position of the viewer in life and the character or person in the image. So, ‘hijacking’ such a character, a character whose reality or situation may be vastly different to our own, offered an opportunity for engaging with ‘Holder’ or another character, in a different way. By removing him from fictive space and asking what ‘potential’ he may hold in a discursive or critical space, Caines’ project related closely to my own interests.

In conversation with Suzanne Caines prior to the event, I raised a number of questions – some of which I asked in the workshop itself. Selected relevant questions to the current project are below:

1. I have been looking at the relationship between the viewer and the person viewed in an image as a concrete one, one that can be considered relationally and in particular one that is embedded, for the viewer, in the pursuit of proxy agencies, underscored by our ‘attachments’ to characters and the inequality that tends to frame their reality and ours (i.e. the more positive or negative situation of the protagonist watched).

What, in this context does the removal of the ‘character’ from the image mean? If the singular ‘self’ they represent, their ‘character’, is deliberately composed to function within a particular narrative, what of their exit from the image is confusing for them. Without a recognisable context within which to function, or ‘perform’ who will Steven Holder be on exit from the image, might they be the actor Joel Kinnaman? Also, might Kinnaman be situated somewhere between the lines they were given and the next job they have on their books via their agent? Could this ‘between’ space, that resides between an actor’s job and their role be a fruitful or critical one to consider?

2. The most challenging thing that Holder can provide might be a desire, inherent to the detective drama, to discover the truth. What kind of truth could this be, a truth found in the image, in the text, between both, a truth found only amongst multiple voices in a collective space of enquiry?

3. In Caines’ work ‘Occupying the Space’ is the affect that we feel in relation to highly rendered bodies on screens negated in such a way that, if we choose to view them, we must engage with the affect that arises between two forms of text, or spoken audio and text? I’ve talked about the pathos underpinning an image that provides a highly affective relation to another body; when the image is gone, we are alone as viewers are without an image or a body to ‘relate to’. Might then Caines’ work be representative of this pathos, a space that is emptied out of bodies and into which text is filled. Might pathos and loss of bodies in images be connected?

4. Jacques Rancière’s notion of ‘non-essential’ plots is interesting when thought in relation to the idea of contingency in a political context, where there is a dependency on certain circumstances for something to exist, also the notion of preparation for an event. Where circumstances may exist, or something may need to be prepared for, what is essential, against the ‘non-essential’? What becomes essential in a context of cultural production? Where a novelistic type of narrative, such as that found in The Killing (US) is recognised, is that original narrative basis essential, important or contingent to the character selected to be removed from her or his situation, in a political context? What is essential about the character that isn’t about the narrative itself?

5. Is this space of collective production imagined as a radical context in which what is productive and suggestive about combinations that don’t ‘hang together’ easily can be explored. Yet, for Rancière, schizophrenia is ‘where the sentence sinks into the scream and meaning into the rhythm of bodily states’, he counterposes ‘schizophrenia or consensus’ (p. 45) as two extremes. Is his ‘sentence-image’ a demarcation of a critical compromise in this context?

 

 

‘Group Photo’ screening – 18/2/16, The Showroom, London

I screened my 2014 moving image work, ‘Group Photo’ at The Showroom gallery, London on 18/2/16. The screening was part of ‘Now Showing’ a series of events run by Cinenova Feminist Film and Video Distributor who hold an archive of women’s film and video. The premise of these events is to invite artists to show a work of their own with one selected from the Cinenova collection. My choice  was to show Judith Barry’s 1978 work, ‘Kaleidoscope’ with ‘Group Photo’.

I talked with Marina Vishmidt in a post-screening discussion. A key focus of this conversation was a discussion about my recent PhD and current Post-Doctoral research at the University of Leeds on ‘Performing Attachment’.

Part One of ‘Group Photo’ can be watched on Vimeo here https://vimeo.com/139951902.

Judith Barry’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ (50 mins, 1978):
Originally performed over a two-week period at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, these five-minute scenes juggle with domestic situations and probe the dynamics of a couple’s daily interactions – but in this instance the male character is cleverly played by a woman. Popular conventions from TV, cinema and theatre are used to drawn attention to issues raised by middle-class feminism. The format parodies typical soap opera programmes and in so doing highlights how, in its attempt to reflect ordinary life, soap opera grossly distorts reality through over-dramatisation and compacting events. ‘Barry hints and puts across the feeling that women then tended to seek solutions to their problems within the confines of personal relationships, instead of pursuing them in the outside world where they really intended changes to take place.’ (Reading University)

When I selected Barry’s video from the Cinenova archive to show with Group Photo, these were the reasons why:

Primarily, I’m interested in how Barry’s video uses self-conscious devices to address notions of inequality. I really like the use of a female actor in the male role, and how this provides a constant challenge to the inequalities being played out in the video. In Group Photo, I sought to address the limitations of the representation of groups in images in capitalist culture, and to counteract this by on the one hand presenting a ‘sustained image of equality’ where each person is different yet equally able to ‘become’ someone else, effects are equally applied to them, they are diversified by gender, race, cultural background and age.Then on the other hand I sought to apply overbearing effects to the depiction of this group – self-conscious camera work and artificial image colour, effects that seem extreme and far from democratic.

Barry’s work also critiques the way that relationships are depicted in culture, particularly taking aim at the soap opera. In Group Photo I sought to critique the representation of groups in images. The over-dramatisation of the events in Kaleidoscope, the limited framing of what may happen between two people, the stratification and sharp delineation of male and female roles, the connection to film melodrama that I see, all relate to the hyperbolic ways in which I ‘make’ the images in Group Photo romantic, or cold for instance. They also relate to how I suggest two intital stratified ‘modes’ of image-making as a start point of the work: the recording of group achievement, and the use of the group to promote something. Pushed to extremes of coldness and apparent warmth in the video, these codified ‘types’ of image-making invite the actors to perform roles directly associated with these ‘extremes’ (i.e interrogative/romantic), that is to meet the expected aesthetic of the image. Finally the group rejects the limited conventions of the image, interacting in different ways and ignoring the types of representation that the image colour and camera work suggest. There is also significant change in both works – in Kaleidoscope, with the effect of the woman’s experience of education and altered attitudes on their relationship and in Group Photo which, especially viewed as a linear work as it would be in a screening, is very strongly about the change of roles, of the potential of people to become, and of agency.

I am really interested in works which transpose a male role onto a female one, or which use casting to disrupt our engagement with a particular character. For instance, in Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire where two female actors play the same role, also Todd Solondz’s controversial Palindromes where numerous actors play the role of a young girl. In Barry’s film – these self-conscious gestures confront us, challenging us to manage our associations with women, at the same time as deal with our opinion of men, and how both are depicted. I have long been interested in the film version of Intimacy where at the end of the film Mark Rylance perfectly acts out the female stereotype in a relationship: he cries, asking for a serious relationship that the woman doesn’t want. It was really important to me that in Group Photo what happened to men also happened to women, all the effects are applied equally and while stereotyped roles exist, they are often disrupted by other differences, specific choreographies or are subverted in other ways.

The quote in the synopsis for Kaleidoscope  in the Cinenova archive list speaks of women seeking solutions to their problems within relationships rather than outside of them. Group Photo effectively enables people like you or I (i.e. people who don’t occupy extremes of aesthetic attractiveness, youth, fashion), to occupy a high quality image, they then reject the modes of representation applied to them and the work concludes by suggesting that it is beyond the image, collectively, that their future resides. So, both works suggest something similar, that solutions must be sought collectively rather than domestically.

I’m interested in the contrast between Group Photo  as a highly choreographed silent work, and Kaleidoscope being so carefully scripted. It’s important that when the actors speak in my work they are not heard, while the conversation itself seems productive. I based that improvised dialogue on principles of ‘being seen and heard’, which contrasts with Barry’s characters who, when they speak, are often not heard.

Both works make the artifice of representation employed explicit, using the disruptive effects of this to speak of the nature of representation itself. The humour of both works relates well to this too, where what is absurd or strange or lacking in the staging or work is referred to the act of representation and all the choices that the artist has made – something that interests me a lot.

Considered in the light of ‘Performing Attachment’:

In the context of the ‘Performing Attachment’ project the relationship between ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Group Photo’ highlights the inadequacy of the depiction of human life in visual culture and social media. Where the potential of groups seems deliberately constrained and codified in the images we so often see of them (i.e in advertising or contexts of ‘achievement’) this creates a space for alternative ways of thinking about ‘recording’ collective interaction. For me, the ‘Performing Attachment’ project, by deliberately responding to the apparent gap between what actually happens between attached people that is creative, and what is shown of intimate relationships in images or visual culture, creates a space where an alternative kind of interaction can happen. Here, the creative interactions possible between people in life can be foregrounded, yet, in the  workshops and final moving image project, can be explored as improvisations between people who are unattached. This is imagined as a politicised process that counteracts both the depictions of close human relationships in capitalist culture, and may suggest extensions from such ‘creativity’ into the realms of political collaboration and reimagining forms of collectivity.